by Vlad Ionasc
Kahron Ross lifted the Cheshire Phoenix past bitter rivals Manchester Giants with a clutch step-back jumper in the last second of a scrappy contest at the Ellesmere Port Sports Village.
Cheshire clinched the season-series over Manchester and moved up to third position in the BBL Championship table, however it wasn’t a facile victory at all, as the lowly Mancunians provided the Nix with a stern test in the final North West Derby of the season.
The Giants restricted the hosts to just 44% shooting from the floor and 15% from three-point territory, whilst also forcing them into 12 turnovers. The visitors were more efficient from the field, three-point range and the free-throw line. They committed less turnovers and accumulated more assists than the Nix, however they gave up 43 rebounds (18 offensive) and fell victim to a killer step-back from Ross, which left them with only 0.6s to find an answer on the offensive end.
Aaron Geramipoor, who finished with 21 points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks, was trusted with the last shot of the game, however he misfired on his three-point attempt.
Mike McCall Jr. poured in 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting and came up with one of the most important plays of the night. With just 54 seconds on the clock, McCall cashed in a long two-pointer and drew a foul in the process, giving his team a five-point cushion. The Nix obtained three consecutive offensive rebounds prior to McCall’s make, which indicated their desire to win the Derby at all costs.
The Giants then went on a miraculous 5-0 run in the space of 41 seconds and tied the game at 75 points apiece. Ross came through in the clutch once again and added another signature moment to his MVP case, as he nailed the game-winning shot over Donovan Marshall-Johnson. Cheshire’s floor-general finished with 14 points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals and zero turnovers.
Jimbo Lull bounced back from his poor performance against the Flyers, with a monster 10-point, 17-rebound (career-high) double-double.
Phoenix’s captain, Jalen Hayes, added 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists, while the energetic Kyle Carey did a little bit of everything, as he tallied 10 points, four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning played just 11 minutes due to foul trouble, however he still contributed with four points, two rebounds, an assist and a block.
The Giants scored the first points of the game through Geramipoor, but Ross came right back with a triple from the corner. The Nix established a five-point gap at the 6-minute mark of the opening quarter. Hayes threw down a powerful dunk at the 5:43 mark and forced the Giants into their first timeout of the night. The Giants narrowed the gap to one, thanks to a 6-0 run following the time-out. Cassell’s fade-away jumper put the Mancunians on the high-side at the 3:42 mark. The Nix regained the lead, thanks to a 4-0 burst initiated by McCall and finished off by MBA however the visitors closed the first quarter with a 9-to-2 run and went into the second stanza up 23-to-17.
The Mancunians opened the second period of play with an 8-4 run and earned themselves the first double-digit lead of the night at the 7:23 mark. Coach Thomas was forced into a time-out, which proved to be effective, as his side replied with a 8-0 run to bring the deficit down to two at the half-way point of the quarter. Cheshire had the chance to regain the lead at the 3:15 mark, however McCall made just one of two free-throws and the two teams found themselves knotted at 32 point apiece. The Nix performed marginally worse than their opponents in the closing stages of the first half and went into the break down 36-37.
The guests extended their advantage to three inside the first two minutes of the second half. Jordan Whelan’s crafty lay-up at the 6:43 mark increased Manchester’s cushion to five. The visitors committed their fifth foul of the quarter at the 5:11 mark, which meant that Cheshire were in the bonus for the rest of the third frame. Donovan Marshall-Johnson was called for his fourth foul at the 3:21 mark, and the Nix found themselves behind by two points just 21 seconds later. The Giants went into the final frame up by 59-to-57 after the two teams traded buckets in equal measure in the last three minutes of the penultimate quarter.
Ross levelled the game at 61 points apiece, with a difficult lay-up at the 8:14 mark. Ross then rifled a pass to McCall, who drilled a trey-ball to put the Nix back in the ascendancy. Carey obtained a stop on defence and went coast-to-coast to extend Phoenix’s advantage to five, with just under seven minutes remaining in the game. Coach Thomas called a time-out at the 4:57 mark, as his team’s cushion was reduced to three points. The Giants tied the game after Jack Hudson converted a shot from deep at the 3:14 mark. McCall went on a solo 5-0 run before the Giants replied with a 5-0 run of their own, through Marshall-Johnson and Geramipoor. Ross opted for an isolation on Marshall-Johnson in Phoenix’s last possession of the game, and he executed the play to perfection. Ross created just enough separation from his defender and then buried a clutch step-back jumper, with 0.6s left on the clock. Geramipoor had the chance to steal the win at the final horn, however his three-point attempt failed to find its intended target and the Nix triumphed, 77-75.